Recently, as I sat down at the organ to practice, my oldest sister, Renee, called. I decided to keep playing while on the phone. Renee asked me what I was playing. I was practicing the “Prelude and Fugue in F Major” (BWV 556) which is credited to J.S. Bach. Specifically, I was working on the last few measures of the fugue. She asked what a fugue is.
Renee was aware of the non musical definition of fugue. The Merriam Webster dictionary provides definitions of both the musical and non musical fugue. Wikipedia gives an extensive overview of the musical fugue. But, it’s hard to discern the meaning from these sources without looking up additional words, such as contrapuntal. There is also a simpler explanation on Wikipedia that is much easier for a novice, like me, to follow. You see, it is possible to learn a piece without understanding the structure. We will keep our definition simple!
What is a fugue?
A fugue is a piece of music written for more than one voice (part or instrument). The initial voice states a theme and then each additional voice imitates the theme. The music progresses with different sections which may or may not repeat the theme. At the end of the theme is usually repeated by one (or perhaps all) of the voices.
I will describe the fugue of the “Prelude and Fugue in F Major”. I am also working on the prelude, but today’s topic is fugue! In the beginning the theme is presented in the left hand. Then the right hand joins next and restates the theme. Finally, the pedal is added also imitating the initial theme. After the introduction of all voices, the theme may be repeated again alternating between voices and perhaps played in different keys. Then the fugue will end with one or more voices restating the theme.
In the video below of “Prelude and Fugue in F Major” (BWV 556) the fugue starts at 1:28 (the prelude is first!).